Moving Away from the New Years Diet Trend
January is a time that many set their goals on eating better and losing the weight they put on over the holidays. While I encourage you to set health goals for yourself, I want to discourage you from going on a “diet”. I know this may sound counterintuitive coming from a dietitian, but here is why:
What makes “Diets” work?
Most of the popular diets you see or hear about have a few things in common: they reduce the amount of processed foods you consume as well as sugar and calories you consume by limiting the foods you can eat. You can see this in the ketogenic diet, the paleo diet, the lectin free diet and many others. Because of this reduction in calories, processed foods and sugars you see weight loss, improved blood sugar levels and increased energy.
Why we do not recommend “Diets”:
Weight loss, improved energy, and balanced blood sugar sound like a great thing, so you may be wondering why I do not recommend doing these diets. While you can see positive results in the short term, these diets are often very restrictive, time consuming and expensive. Because of this these diets are not lasting, meaning they will be a short-term commitment that does not actually teach you healthy eating habits for the long-term. In fact, some of these diets can teach unhealthy habits for long-term health. If done for too long these diets can cause you to become deficient in some important vitamins and minerals. They also can be expensive and many of them do not taste good. I recently read a meme on Instagram that said juice cleanses were just an expensive way to go to the bathroom and while it was funny it was also true, yes you are hydrating, but you are also most likely spiking your blood sugar and are not learning anything about eating more healthfully. Many people who lose weight on these diets will regain it and MORE as soon as they get off the diets.
What we do recommend:
If you are looking to lose weight and/or improve your health for the long-term these are the habits you should begin to implement:
1. Eat whole foods – Reduce the amount of processed and packaged foods you eat. The majority of your diet should be composed of simple, single ingredient foods, for example: an egg, an apple, a carrot or a piece of cheese. Focus on the foods on the perimeter of the grocery store.
2. Drink more water – You should aim to drink half of your weight in ounces of hydrating fluids a day. For example, if you are 140 pounds you should aim to drink 70 oz. or about 9 cups of hydrating fluids (decaffeinated and non-alcoholic) a day.
3. Eat every 3 to 4 hours – If you go too long without eating, your blood sugar will dip too low. This causes cravings and typically you overeat at the next meal. This does not mean you should graze all day, but instead plan healthy and balanced meals and snacks. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours and always include a protein with your carbohydrate. Examples of balanced snacks include a banana and some nuts or an apple and a piece of cheese.
4. Pay attention to portion sizes – Be aware of how much food you are putting in your body. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, meaning you can even overdo it on healthy foods. Listen to your hunger cues and stop when you are full. If you are not sure what this should look like, try tracking your calories for a few days to recognize how much you are eating throughout the day and see if that is a reasonable number for your size and activity level.
5. Move every day – Movement is good for your heart, your brain, and your weight as well as your stress level. Even if you are just going on a 10-minute walk every day, it can add up and improve your health. If you do not exercise regularly try doing things such as parking farther from the entrance of a store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator to incorporate more movement into your day.
Even just implementing one of these habits daily can make a lasting impact on your overall health. Instead of committing to short term weight loss or immediate results, focus on creating healthy habits and making a lasting change. Make this year the year the year you put yourself and your long term health first.